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Aquascaping 101

CJs Aquatics

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I want to learn how to aquascape and don’t know where to start. My display tanks don’t feel display worthy to me and I feel this is the next stage of my fish-keeping development. Would anyone be able to share some knowledge? Point me in the right direction? Pretend I know nothing because that’s what it feels like when I look at some of them lol thank you in advance any tips tricks help knowledge etc will be helpful, I don’t even know where to start honestly 

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It's an investment of your time, but if you wish to develop those skills it's a great option. I follow hundreds of hobbyists and many of them post videos showing the steps they took to create their aquascapes. Most are friendly enough to answer questions and provide tips. When I started I asked a few people questions at every turn. Give it a chance.  

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The first step is to decide what kind of scape you are looking for. Natural? fantasy? whimsy?  Those fantastic nature displays you see are often temporary, and have been trimmed and polished for the camera.  Assuming you are looking for a natural scape, look at pictures and take a walk in the woods. See how nature does it.

Your scape should have 3 dimensions, a sense of movement, and a sense of scale.

Everything in your scape should make sense. Which came first, that root or that rock?

Avoid mismatching the hardscape.  You aren't likely going to see a large lava rock next to a smooth stream pebble. A pile of rocks will always look like a rock pile.  Rocks will almost always protrude out of the substrate, not sit on top.

Odd numbers are better.  Avoid the three ten split, and the urge to center the display.   Keep the rule of thirds in mind.  Your display should have visual interest from multiple angles.

I've rambled enough.  Above all, if you like it, it is a good aquascape

Edited by Tanked
removed stray word
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I could give a quick run down!


First and foremost if you have an object or island or even a large plant species to display you want to place it off center. Doing so will draw the eye to it without making it feel out of place.


Often times leaving the mistake looks better. You set a rock down and it doesn’t go exactly where you want it. Take a step back and see if it looks better than your vision. This is a tool even pro aquascapers struggle with. 

Use a mix of wood and stone to soften and sharpen features. Iwagumi is very difficult to pull off. Use also only one stone type and one wood type. Mixing wood or stone color can really detract from a piece.


Lastly the one I prefer doing. Just copy nature. If I ever see a cool formation or tiny waterfall along a path I take many pictures and save them to folders for later use. It’s great inspiration. 

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There are lots of rules and types of aquascapes and it is easy to see one component you like from one scape and another from another scape and they wind up looking like a hodge podge.  I recommend going slow and here is what I would do to make starting in the world of aquascapes a little more manageable and less overwhelming.

  1. Identify a tank you would like to use for your aquascape - (one you have or a new one) and I would plan to break one down if it is running so you can start from a blank slate.  
  2. Figure out what kind of style you want to do from the main styles - use google to figure out which style you seem to like the best.  I'd keep it within these categories to start with.
    • Nature
    • Iwagumi
    • Dutch
    • Biotope
  3. Once you figure out the main style, then then look and see if you can identify ways to narrow down the style further to try to emulate- e.g. a triangle nature aquarium
  4. Once you have that narrowed down, research out the "rules" of the type you have picked and the factors to consider in those designs.  Read up on those styles of aquariums, and try to find build videos for that style, etc.  Once you have narrowed the universe down to a specific type - it can make things more manageable.  
  5. After you research a bit, you can start planning your own scape for the box you've identified and narrow in on what you are going for in the size of aquarium you have.  Are you going to do CO2?  What rock and wood do you want to use?  
  6. Then you can make a plan and buy hardscape.  Take your time with the layout and tweak your plan accordingly.  
  7. Then you can finish out the scape and live with it and make subtle tweaks.  Even though you are honing in on one style, you'd learn a lot of things that translate across all scapes like - depth, shadow, focal points, the golden ratio, etc.

I am more in a fish focused phase at the moment, but I hope to get back to an aquascape focused tank someday.


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